Fortson Mill

McCaughey and McCaughey Sawmill, photo from Jason Young

It was December 1st, 1904 when Mr. L. Brooks sold 113.05 acres of land to Hugh L. McCaughey (1857-1947), Frederick J. McCaughey (1864-1937) and William H. McCaughey (1875-1940)  They took part of this land to build a sawmill along the Stillaguamish River.  The name of this mill was McCaughey Lumber Company, operations started on July 27th, 1905.  The new train from Arlington had reached Darrington in 1901.  The whole area was in a boom with sawmills developing along the tracks. A settlement sprang up around the McCaughy mill and by 1910 the population had grown to 130 people. By 1913 it had become a major employer for the area, the average wage for a 12 hour day was $3.50.  McCaugheys sold their sawmill moving operations upriver on the Stillaguamish and leased the L.D.R. Mill. . Records show that the McCaugney Lumber Company was stricken from the list of Washington State businesses fourteenth Biennial Report, Washington State Office of Secretary of Sate, October 1, 1914 - September 30, 1916. Oral histories indicate that McCaugheys continued their lease at the L.D.R. Mill until the 1930s.  These conflicting dates could be resultant in discontinuation their previous business name.

The old Klement and Kennedy Company Store, office and homes of Fortson WA

Georgia-born Seattle attorney, George Hayley Fortson (October 19, 1860-March 27, 1899) purchased the McCaughey Lumber Company.  Stocks of $1,000 were sold and the Fortson Lumber Company incorporated May 19, 1914 capitalized at $6,000.  Trustees included Lee Erastus Dickinson (1871-1940), Joseph Kohout and Royal Herbert Lamson (1870-1934). In the height of Fortson's Lumber Company's success it was severely damaged by a fire some time around 1917.  The company dissolved on December 19, 1918.

Grading lumber, photo Darrington Historical Society

Theodore M. Klement (1880-1957) and Charles Thomas Kennedy (1871-1935) bought the Fortson Mill in 1923 which had been idle for several years.  The name changed to Klement and Kennedy Company Mill.  Even though the sawmill was once again renamed, the surrounding community continued to call it Fortson and the old site is still known as that today.  By 1923 Fortson as a town had phone service through Pacific Telephone, there was a company store, post office, several fine homes and several bunk houses for the men. There were three saloons in the area, but later one of these saloons was converted into a Union Sunday School. The sawmill at Fortson was a modern mill for the day and maintained logging railroads with 2 locomotives and one skidder, 4 flat cars and 2 long logging sides, a large machine shop and electric light plant.

The town and mill of Fortson, photo Darrington Historical Society

There were two other mills in the area along the Stillaguamish River near Fortson. The Fortson Shingle Mill was located to the west where French Creek Road is now. The L.D.R.Mill was located to the east about 1/4 mile east of the Swede Heaven Road Railroad crossing. By 1926 Fortson had grown to a population of 320 people.  The Fortson Mill, seeing truck traffic was increasing modified the layout of the mill to accommodate improved vehicle access and invested in 4 logging trucks.  When severe storms washed out the road at Hazel down river from Fortson in 1932 during the hard times of the Great Depression.  Things seemed to grind to a halt with the Stillaguamish Valley now relying so much on the road for travel.  Much needed road improvements were made on the Darrington - Arlington Road, a secondary highway, moving the road to higher ground and away from the river.  This road is now known as State Route Highway 530 today. 

Keeping the saws sharp at Klement and Kennedy Mill, photo from Bruce Seaton

The store at Whitehorse owned by the Bennettes was rebuilt closer to the highway where they had installed the first gas pump meeting the needs of motor vehicle travel. Later this store was moved across the street where the Whitehorse Shell Station is today.  As traveling became easier by motor vehicles, populations migrated over time further from the railroad and closer to the highway  Though a growing number of trucks were on the roads, the train remained the primary method of moving logs and lumber for several years to come, however times were changing for the valley.  Operations for the Fortson Logging Railroad ceased in 1936. 
The old waterwheel at Fortson, photo from Theresa Anderson

Fortson was sold to Burke Barker in 1954, and he later moved the mill to the Three Rivers Mill in Darrington, later known as Summit Timber, and now known as Hampton Lumber Company. When the mill moved men needed to be closer to work and so several families moved to Darrington or closer to the highway for ease of traveling to work.   

The ruins of Fortson, Washington, photo by Martha Rasmussen

The Mill at Fortson was powered by steam. Throughout the massive concrete ruins you see the round holes where pipes once ran.  There was a waterwheel north of the small pond where the fish ladder is now near the railroad bridge. This supplied electricity for lighting until the town was able to connect with Seattle Power and Light.  Metal roofing and pipe was sold for salvage to the Taylor Mill downriver near the Cicero Bridge.  Some of the dwellings were moved off site for homes and the cook house was moved to be an office near the community of Whitehorse.  Over the years Nature has pressed into the ruins of Fortson creating a strange sense of the present and the past coexisting simultaneously. Massive concrete walls are adorned with Maidenhair Ferns, and Indian Plums and Trillium grow where men once stood working to make a day's wage. 

  De-barker on the small mill pond, photo from Phil Berquist

The De-Barker removed the bark off of logs before sawing them for board feet.  Have a good look at the aerial  photo and you will see the Company Store, Boiler House and De-Barker above.

The small mill pond at Fortson, photo by Martha Rasmussen

This is where the De-Barker once was.  Now the
Darrington Volunteer Fire Department holds the Juvenile Fishing Derby in the Spring.  You can still see the large grooves cut into the concrete embankment where tracks ran down to the pond to bring up logs to the De-barker.

Even though the town of Fortson has drifted into the past, it leaves behind a clear reminder in massive concrete ruins where men worked and families lived.  The ash and steam no longer billow from smokestacks, no more whirring saws or grinding of the de-barker and green chain, and the voices of people are now silent, and yet Fortson still exudes the presence of a place that was vital in its day, and today remains a rich reminder of our history.

Old Fortson Mill is 7 miles west of Darrington, the Whitehorse Trail passes right by this historic site on the way to Darrington.